One of the most common sayings in golf is actually a myth
Welcome to Play Smart, a new game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Director of Game Improvement content Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.
Golf loves a good cliché, and it makes sense why. Golf is really difficult. And really complicated. Quippy little sayings like “drive for show, putt for dough!” or “never up, never in!” can help make sense of this oft-maddening game for so many golfers.
But, of course, not all clichés bely a simple truth. Some were presumably created simply because they sounded good, generally seemed to make sense and stuck around long enough that they became part of the furniture. The worst of them all? Our Golf Top 100 Teachers think, almost universally: “keep your head down” is a truly terrible piece of advice.
Another common golf cliché that’s not quite as bad but one you still need to keep an eye on: “Eliminate one side of the golf course.”
Nobody eliminates one side of the golf course
The idea that golfers can eliminate one side of the golf course has been around so long, it’s practically impossible to trace it back to its origins. And, to be fair, the phrase is more of an oversimplification or mischaracterization than anything else.
When great players talked about eliminating one side of the golf course, as many of them often did, what they’re actually describing is their preferred shot shape — nowadays, you’ll hear golfers talk about their “patterns.” They’re trying to hit a fade, for instance, which also means they’re trying not to hit a draw. They may go so far as to describe not hitting a draw as “eliminating the left side of the golf course,” but the truth is, that’s not actually what happens.
Golf instructor Shauheen Nakhjavani highlights a great example using the data below. There are a lot of players who tend to miss left more often than right, or vice versa, but there aren’t any players who eliminate one side of the golf course altogether. Even the most right-sided players still miss left fairly often.
Ideally, you’re trying to work the ball in one intended direction, as Scott Fawcett of DECADE Golf points out, but it doesn’t then follow that you’ll eliminate one side of the course because of it. And that’s okay. A better goal for golfers is to work to make sure their good and bad shots are bunched relatively close together. It’s something that’s illustrated rather perfectly by Patrick Reed’s record-setting Trackman combine setting below.
Notice how Reed misses shots both to the left and right of his target. Technically, that means he hasn’t eliminated either side of the golf course. But that’s ok! Why? Because all his shots are really close together, and that’s the aim of the game.
You don’t need to be a pro in order to have a preferred shot shape, whether it’s left-to-right fades or right-to-left draws. Breaking 80, if that’s your goal, isn’t about hitting the ball perfectly. It’s about hitting the ball predictably. As long as you have a general idea of which way the golf ball is going, you’ll be able to play good golf — all without eliminating one side of the golf course.